This page has moved to a new address.

The 7’4 Chinese Guy in Your Community

In the "Cult of Escapism": The 7’4 Chinese Guy in Your Community

Friday, July 8, 2011

The 7’4 Chinese Guy in Your Community

Imagine you’re in your hometown, washing imaginary dishes in your kitchen that imaginarily faces the street. Your kids start yelling “Chink!” “Chink!” and you see the 7’4 Chinese guy walking past your house in a Brooks Brother’s suit, smiling broadly and waving. He shouts “Herro!” and you wave back and smile. You have no idea why he’s in your town but he’s been there for a few months now and he’s always nice to you and your family.

Having a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in your community is like having a friendly 7’4 Chinese guy in a Brooks Brother’s suit suddenly appear one day and start living there. To explain the metaphor: a few motivated individuals from poor communities request PCVs and set them up with contacts, host families and sometimes a project or purpose (like working in a school or fixing an aqueduct). So in a community of, for example, 1,000 people, only about 40 may know that a PCV is coming and among them, maybe five will know why.

Most volunteers will have a funny accent and say things like, “Can I prease has two pounds of lice prease?” Because they are the first or at least the most consistent white (or black or asian) person the kids have come in contact with, the kids will yell the racial equivalent of “chink” or “gringo” or “negro” when they walk by. And because they’re so desperate for acceptance, they will smile and wave and play cards with them at their houses – even if they always end up playing war, which is extremely boring for anyone older than 10 – and even if they can’t stand kids.

They will wear some kind of collared shirt and pants every day, even though it’s approximately 600 degrees, because they are always “on the job” and poor people are extremely sensitive to appearance (although, to be fair, few would take you seriously if you wore a tee shirt in a board room, unless you’re already mega-rich like Mark Cuban). So they wear what they normally consider casual (a polo or a Nike golf shirt) but because they have swooshes on their chests, they might as well be wearing Armani. When people come to their houses, they will no doubt comment on how many nice Brooks Brother’s and Armani suits they have.

Now go back to your imaginary kitchen that faces the road. You walk out to talk to the Chinese guy, who everyone has nicknamed Bruce, because his real name is Xi-xing Wrkyong. Bruce is sweating profusely in the July sun but still smiling as he hands you an invitation to a nutrition seminar. He explains that he has a master’s degree in nutrition from the Chinese equivalent of Harvard (anybody?) and would like to help the community eat better and get in shape. You haven’t seen your toes in two years and eat nothing but Top Ramen every meal but you know that you are planning on visiting your sister that day and there’s absolutely no chance that you will go to the seminar. You sign up anyway.
So you never go to his seminar but two months later, Bruce invites you to another seminar, smiling a desperate, pleading smile as he hands you an invitation, which cost him the equivalent of about $40 to make and required a six hour round trip to the nearest city to print. You will use it as firewood and never go to his seminar.

Bruce goes to every town meeting and sits up straight, appearing to listen attentively, though he only understands about every 4th sentence. He will accidentally show up two hours early and talk to people about the weather, “It is velly sunny today prease!” During the three hour meeting, Bruce will spend 2 hours and 45 minutes mentally debating whether he prefers Kill Bill Volume 1 or Volume 2 (he still hasn’t decided).

Bruce will play basketball for the town team. He will teach nutrition classes at the school. He’ll spend nine months finding a motivated group of people who want to start a community garden, solicit funding and spend four months waiting for approval. Bruce will read 100 books in two years. He will pick up a new, esoteric hobby like wood carving because many days he has absolutely nothing to do. Every few weeks, he will disappear to the nearest city to “work,” which means he will eat expensive Chinese food, gamble and binge drink with his fellow volunteers.

You know that several other towns in your district have giant, impeccably dressed Chinese people. Sometimes, you see Bruce walking with two other volunteers, speaking Chinese and laughing. You don’t know that one of those volunteers will return to his community and stay in his home like a hermit for two weeks, because he lacks the initiative and patience to get work going in the community but refuses to quit. After two weeks, he will go to the city again and apply for jobs in China. The other spends most of his time travelling, convinced that there’s no work in his community.

Bruce will be more successful than the other two and in two years, he will have taught hundreds of children and dozens of adults to live healthier. He doesn’t and will probably never know how many will listen and replace cup ramen with fruits and vegetables. He’ll be most proud of his community garden, which only 12 people will use but use frequently.

Most community members will remember Bruce for many of his qualities but only one of his activities. Young men will say he was funny and smart and played basketball. Teachers will say he was caring and motivated and kind and taught nutrition. Housewives will remember he was good with kids and handsome and walked a lot. If anyone asks them, they’ll say that Bruce lived in the community for six years.

A lot of people tell me it takes a special kind of person to join the Peace Corps. I’d say it takes a slightly crazy, masochistic kind of person. Bruce would say, “Herro! Coocumbah velly good fo you prease!”  


At July 8, 2011 at 7:58 AM , Blogger Marin said...

I love reading your blog! You are able to articulate so well on all the idiosyncrasies of a Peace Corps Volunteer. Kudos Bruce!

TEA 63

At July 12, 2011 at 2:18 PM , Blogger Stephen said...

haha you just summed up my experience man

At July 20, 2011 at 10:34 PM , OpenID Calvon said...

im looking to meet some chinese people, got a hookup??

At July 29, 2011 at 7:40 PM , Blogger Alyson said...

You could have chosen any racial stereotype to illustrate your point, and I commend you on your choice of Chinese with the related opportunities to make Engrish jokes.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home